SACRAMENTO — Election-weary California voters have yet to weigh in on November's special election ballot measures. But special interests have already launched dozens of initiative efforts aimed at next year's election.

About two dozen ballot measure bids are listed with the secretary of state's office to be circulated for signatures to qualify for the June ballot or are awaiting approval to circulate.

Initiative efforts are under way on topics ranging from restricting political contributions by corporations and creating a new state police force to patrol the Mexican border to expanding preschool.

And even more initiatives are likely to follow.

While it is unclear how many actually will get the required signatures needed to qualify for the ballot, experts say a spate of elections filled with initiatives in recent years may be taking a toll on voters.

"Is there election fatigue?" asked political analyst SherryBebitch Jeffe of the University of Southern California. "Absolutely.

"(Voters have) had it for a while now, I think. We had two elections statewide in 2002, one in 2003, two in 2004 and now we're having one election in 2005. And that doesn't count all the local elections that are held."

The danger in the growing initiative phenomenon is that voters will begin to tune out.


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A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 60 percent said they would prefer the November special election ballot be postponed until the June primary.

Despite the potential fatigue, Californians are not ready to scrap the initiative process. The same poll found that most think the initiative process is "probably better" at making public policy than the Legislature or governor.

Still, there are misgivings: About 60 percent in the poll said they also were "somewhat satisfied" with how the initiative process is working in California today.

Many California voters, bracing for an impending phalanx of signature-gatherers at supermarkets and strip malls in the months ahead, expressed frustration and disappointment in the process last week, even while supporting the empowerment it can provide.

"I have signed (initiative petitions) in the past, but the last round I didn't even bother," said Jeff Edwards, a general contractor in Tarzana. "It just seems like every initiative has some baggage or special interest associated with it."

That sentiment was echoed by others, who said they have developed a measure of distrust because what at first glance seems to be a straightforward initiative can have unintended consequences or hidden agendas.

Despite voter misgivings, Dave Gilliard, a political consultant who is working on two ballot measures for 2006, said he believes voters still prefer making more of their own choices.

"They actually buy into the idea that going to the ballot and making a decision is good," he said.

The use of ballot measures in California has been a relatively modern phenomenon, despite creation of the process in 1911 and the ensuing decades when only a handful of measures survived the administrative hurdles needed to make it to ballots.

By the mid-1970s, though, the process had caught on, and about 20 to 30 measures were granted state titles every year allowing signatures to be gathered.

By 1997, the number of such measures hit a single-year record — 54.

Still, the signature-gathering process has kept the number of measures that show up on ballots relatively low.

To qualify a statute for a ballot, gatherers must get signatures equal to 5 percent of votes cast for governor in the last election — that's 373,816. To qualify a constitutional amendment for the ballot it is 8 percent — or 598,105.

Tom Bader, an Orange County political consultant who does signature-gathering for Republican causes and has studied the history of initiatives, said the increasing popularity reflects increased voter frustration with the political process. 

"As long as the Legislature and governor can agree on almost nothing, initiatives are going to happen," Bader said. "There really is a situation here where there's a lot of pent-up feelings about certain things. It's an outlet."

Propelling the popularity is the fact that more professional consultants who know how to organize ballot campaigns have emerged, Bader said.

And the signature-gathering process has become a full-time job for some, who can earn anywhere from $1 to $5 per signature.

Assemblyman Tom Umberg, D-Santa Ana and chairman of the Assembly's Elections and Redistricting Committee, said he does believe there is voter fatigue and thinks it is too easy to qualify measures for the ballot.

He said he thinks California needs several improvements to the initiative process including legislative and judicial review of measures before they go on the ballot to try to head off problems such as those with a redistricting measure on the Nov. 8 special election ballot.

The measure, authored by activist Ted Costa, was challenged in court because its wording going onto the ballot is slightly different from the wording circulated by signature gatherers.

"In terms of initiatives, there's plenty of room for improvement," Umberg said. "One of the challenges that we have is that anybody can put an initiative on the ballot provided they have enough money.

"I think I could qualify an initiative that says the Earth is flat given the right amount of money."